The Quiet American

Paul Manafort made a career out of stealthily reinventing the world’s nastiest tyrants as noble defenders of freedom. Getting Donald Trump elected will be a cinch.

Slate, By Franklin Foer, April 28

Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s palace, is impressive by the standards of Palm Beach—less so when judged against the abodes of the world’s autocrats. It doesn’t, for instance, quite compare with Mezhyhirya, the gilded estate of deposed Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. Trump may have 33 bathrooms and three bomb shelters, but his mansion lacks a herd of ostrich, a galleon parked in a pond, and a set of golden golf clubs. Yet the two properties are linked, not just in ostentatious spirit, but by the presence of one man. Trump and Yanukovych have shared the same political brain, an operative named Paul Manafort.

Ukrainians use the term “political technologist” as a favored synonym for electoral consultant. Trump turned to Manafort for what seemed at first a technical task: Manafort knows how to bullwhip and wheedle delegates at a contested convention. He’s done it before, assisting Gerald Ford in stifling Ronald Reagan’s insurgency at the GOP’s summer classic of 1976. In the conventions that followed, the Republican Party often handed Manafort control of the program and instructed him to stage-manage the show. He produced the morning-in-America convention of 1984 and the Bob Dole nostalgia-thon of 1996.

Given Manafort’s experience and skill set, it never made sense that he would be limited to such a narrow albeit crucial task as delegate accumulation. Indeed, it didn’t take long before he attempted to seize control of the Trump operation—managing the budget, buying advertising, steering Trump toward a teleprompter and away from flaming his opponents, appearing on air as a primary surrogate.

Some saw the hiring of Manafort as desperate, as Trump reaching for a relic from the distant past in the belated hope of compensating for a haphazard campaign infrastructure. In fact, securing Manafort was a coup. He is among the most significant political operatives of the past 40 years, and one of the most effective. He has revolutionized lobbying several times over, though he self-consciously refrains from broadcasting his influence. Unlike his old business partners, Roger Stone and Lee Atwater, you would never describe Manafort as flamboyant. He stays in luxury hotels, but orders room service and churns out memos. When he does venture from his suite for dinner with a group, he’ll sit at the end of the table and say next to nothing, giving the impression that he reserves his expensive opinions for private conversations with his clients. “Manafort is a person who doesn’t necessarily show himself. There’s nothing egotistical about him,” says the economist Anders Aslund, who advised the Ukrainian government. The late Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory described him as having a “smooth, noncommittal manner, ” though she also noted his “aggrieved brown eyes.” Despite his decades of amassing influence in Washington and other global capitals, he’s never been the subject of a full magazine profile. He distributes quotes to the press at the time and place of his choosing, which prior to his arrival on the Trump campaign, was almost never. (Indeed, he did not respond to requests to comment for this story.)

Why Hillary Fans Get Angry

If you’re not a fan of Hillary yourself, this piece will take some suspension of disbelief. It’s an attempt to explain why her “love and kindness” supporters eventually reach the end of their ropes and post mean replies to Sanders fans.

We don’t feel like we started this fight. Many of us liked Sanders early on, for all the reasons his diehard fans still do. Equality and democracy are important Democratic principles and he said some great stuff.

But then he kept saying exactly the same stuff. If you’ve seen one speech you’ve seen them all. His published proposals failed to add up. He started attacking institutions and people dear to the DNC. So many of us stepped back and said, “not only can he not accomplish what he’s promising, he’s actually working against us on several fronts.”

We became the subject of attack. Somehow Hillary was worse than Trump or Cruz or Kasich or Bush. Somehow she was the great evil power to be defeated, and anyone who sympathized with her was a sell-out, a shill, blind, ignorant, heartless, undemocratic, “establishment.” Read More

The CIA Illegally Let the Wrong People Do Intelligence Work, Declassified Report Finds

VICE News, By Jason Leopold, April 27

The CIA violated federal laws and its own internal regulations by hiring independent contractors for a wide variety of intelligence and national security-related work that was supposed to be performed by government employees, according to a CIA Office of Inspector General (OIG) audit report obtained by VICE News in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

The report said the CIA “relies heavily on independent contractors to accomplish important facets of its mission,” particularly at the National Clandestine Service, the covert arm of the agency responsible for clandestine operations around the world. The report, dated June 22, 2012 but only declassified last month, raised numerous red flags about the CIA’s use of independent contractors throughout all divisions within the agency, and for work performed work in areas that included covert operations and protective security services overseas.

By law, that work must be done by CIA employees.

Turkey’s parliament speaker seeks religious constitution

AFP, April 25

Istanbul – Turkey should have a religious constitution, parliament speaker Ismail Kahraman said Monday, in comments that will likely add to concerns of creeping Islamisation under the ruling AKP party.

“As a Muslim country, why should we be in a situation where we are in retreat from religion?” state-run news agency Anatolia quoted him as saying.

“We are a Muslim country. As a consequence, we must have a religious constitution,” the AKP lawmaker told a conference in Istanbul.

Scientists Asked to Boycott Major Conference After AGU Votes to Retain ExxonMobil Ties

DeSmogBlog, By Graham Readfearn, April 18

Scientists are being asked to boycott the next major meeting of the world’s biggest earth sciences organisation after it voted to retain relationships with ExxonMobil.

The American Geophysical Union last week rejected calls from members to break ties with ExxonMobil over the oil giant’s history of funding and supporting climate science misinformation.

AGU members have been voicing their dismay at the decision, which ignored the concerns of more than 200 scientists, many of them AGU members, calling for the relationship to end.

AGU’s board said it would accept sponsorship from ExxonMobil for a breakfast event at its Fall Meeting in December – an event the oil company had previously sponsored.

But Professor Charles Greene, of Cornell University, told DeSmog: “This is far from over. There can be little doubt that this will lead to the biggest shake up in AGU’s history. There is a lot more at stake here than $35,000 for a graduate student breakfast.”

Ukraine’s Prime Minister to Resign Amid Fractures in Post-Revolution Alliance

NYT – KIEV— Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, the prime minister of Ukraine, announced his resignation on Sunday in a surprise move that opened a new period of political uncertainty here.

Mr. Yatsenyuk, an economist and politician backed by Ukraine’s Western allies, including the United States, came to power two years ago behind the wave of popular anger that culminated with the Maidan street protests, which led to the downfall of President Viktor F. Yanukovych. Mr. Yatsenyuk and Petro O. Poroshenko, who became president, emerged as the nation’s most prominent figures.

But the revolution’s leaders soon turned on each other. Although authority is supposed to be balanced evenly between the president and the prime minister, Ukraine’s Western allies eventually sided with Mr. Poroshenko and pushed Mr. Yatsenyuk to step aside.

The announcement came with a caveat that, in Ukraine’s Parliament, there are many procedural tricks that could keep Mr. Yatsenyuk in power.

Putin creates new National Guard in Russia ‘to fight terrorism’

BBC – The force will be formed of interior ministry troops and led by Mr Putin’s former bodyguard, Viktor Zolotov, who will report directly to the president.

Mr Putin’s spokesman said the force could be used to maintain public order.

Mr Putin made the announcement during a meeting with key security officials at the Kremlin. “The decisions have been taken, we are creating a new federal body of executive power,” he said. He also announced that Russia’s drug control agency and federal migration service would become part of the interior ministry’s remit.

The creation of a National Guard has been talked about for years. Mr Peskov said he “could not explain” the timing but denied it had anything to do with upcoming elections or any mistrust of other law-enforcement agencies.

But there are suggestions that President Putin is concerned about possible unrest in the run-up to parliamentary elections in September.

Bernie Backwards on Panama

Image via Wiki Commons

Bernie Sanders and crew are making the outrageous claim that Hillary Clinton is to blame for the corporate abuses being uncovered via the Panama Papers.

In reality, the 2010 agreement she supported as Secretary of State and he railed against in the Senate actually added transparency and reporting requirements. Its passage is the primary reason such a small fraction of the leak data implicates American companies. The country became hostile to clandestine US finance.

But Sanders wants to blame Clinton for accounts established in Panama decades ago. Had Sanders gotten his way, the list of US individuals under new investigation this week would be much longer.

International trade has lifted a billion people out of poverty in the past two decades. Protest votes against trade bills as a matter of principle are no better than protest votes against military action for the same reason.

This follows his insistent mis-characterization of her stance on Iraq and his recent statement that Hillary is “unqualified.” This is in sharp contrast to the views of the current sitting President:

“I’ve gotten to know Hillary Clinton really well, and she is a good, smart, tough person who cares deeply about this country,” Obama said. The President also described Clinton as “really idealistic and progressive,” evidently addressing the perception among some Democrats that she is too moderate, and noted that Clinton’s experience and her mastery of policy issues would be a big help to her in the Oval Office. “It means that she can govern, and she can start here, day one, more experienced than any non-vice-president has ever been who aspires to this office.”

Iceland PM offers to step down after Panama Papers scandal

CNBC – Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, Iceland’s prime minister, has become the first casualty of the so-called Panama Papers scandal after he offered to resign Tuesday, his press office told CNBC. His move follows leaked files that showed his wife owned an offshore firm with big claims on the country’s collapsed banks. Earlier, Gunnlaugsson had asked the country’s president to dissolve parliament in the face of a looming no-confidence vote and protests.

On Monday, the opposition filed a motion of no-confidence and thousands of Icelanders gathered in front of parliament, hurling eggs and bananas and demanding the departure of the leader of the centre-right coalition government, in power since 2013.

A government spokesman has said the claims against Iceland’s collapsed banks held by the firm owned by the prime minister’s wife – in which he also temporarily held a stake – totalled more than 500 million Icelandic crowns ($4.1 million).

Iceland’s main commercial banks collapsed as the global financial crisis hit in 2008 and many Icelanders have blamed the North Atlantic island nation’s politicians for not reining in the banks’ debt-fuelled binge and averting a deep recession.

China announces sanctions against North Korea

Coal, iron, gold and titanium are among the resources that will be banned.

The Indenpendent, By Serina Sandhu, April 5

China has announced a series of sanctions against North Korea.

The country has restricted imports of North Korean coal and sales of jet fuel under UN sanctions.

The Security Council passed a resolution in March, which expanded UN sanctions aimed at withholding funds for the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. It came after Pyongyang conducted four tests in recent months.

Among the North Korean materials to be banned, some of which are fundamental to the country’s revenue, is coal, iron, iron ore, gold, titanium and rare earths.
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